On the morning after the event, when the change-the-system euphoria of the moment wears off, you begin to reckon with reality – the blunt reality in all its ramifications. Many of the implications that were glossed over yesterday, start staring at you in the eye, today. You’re back in the real world away from inebriating world of self-induced make-belief. May I raise here some to the hard-core issues that have a profound bearing on the happenings of the last few weeks.
Let’s, first, recapitulate the bare facts. A 23 year paramedic student was returning with a male friend after watching a movie – “Life of Pi” – at a mall in southwest Delhi. Both of them board a bus in which six men gang-raped and tortured her in hideously brutal manner so much so that her intestines were destroyed. Her friend, attempting to defend her, was mercilessly beaten up. Both were stripped and their bodies tossed out of the bus to perish.
The girl had seen a film about a survivor. She seemed determine to fight it out with death itself. Presumably, when the doctors in India almost gave up, she was flown to a speciality hospital in Singapore where she finally died. Her body was brought back past midnight and she was cremated at crack of dawn lest uncontrollable crowds should make things more complicated for a beleaguered Government.
In Search of Better Life
Who was this girl? She could be my daughter, she could be yours. Actually, the Braveheart – her real name still not announced publicly – and her parents had left their village located in the backwaters of Balia district in eastern UP to rough out in the heartless metropolis of India in search of a better life. This is indeed the dream of those hundreds of thousands who pour into Delhi day after day.
And what sort of city Delhi is turning out to be? Its never-adequate civic infrastructure has almost collapsed. You have to be a professional wrestler to board a public bus at rush hours and (if you’re a woman) a black belt in karate to keep yourself protected. Those who are at the helm of affairs know it well that it can’t go on like this, but dare not say it. It suits the political establishment to add thousands of new voters to their vote-bank. They have no time to bother what happens to them after the elections are over.
How long can this go on and where does it lead us to? When would we ask ourselves this hard question? To quote Bob Dylon’s epic lyric:
How many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn't see?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Again, has the brutality of the case made us confront the reality that sexual violence is deeply entrenched in our culture? Let’s admit such rapes of women have been, and are, occurring with frightening frequency.
Women face daily harassment in our society. Catcalls on streets are common. Groping in buses is a daily happening. Rapes are committed almost day after day. Often police refuse to accept complaints, especially by female victims. Families also dissuade victims from coming forward in the belief that it will tarnish their reputations.
Indeed, the December 16, 2012 gang rape was extreme in its savagery. Hence, the very wide-spread coverage that it received. In the story of the Braveheart and its brutal ending, many women in the world’s largest democracy say they see themselves.
The government does not deliberately keep statistics on gang rape, especially in the UP (where perhaps more rapes are committed than elsewhere because most of the culprits escape punishment because of inefficient and corrupt policing.) Over all, rapes increased 25 percent from 2006 to 2011.
You may like to refer to “The Unspeakable Truth about Rape in India”, a write-up by Sonia Faleiro in New York Times on January 1, 2013 – by far the best analysis I’ve seen of the problem that defies a simple solution. She pointedly brings out how because of a cultural preference for male children, India has about 15 million “extra” men between the ages of 15 and 35 – the range when men are most likely to commit sexual crimes. By 2020, those “extra” men will have doubled to 30 million. How do we deal with them?
“There is a strong correlation between masculinized sex ratios and higher rates of violent crime against women,” said Valerie M. Hudson, a co-author of Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population. Men who do not have wives and families often gather in packs, Ms. Hudson argues, and then commit more gruesome and violent crimes than they would on their own.
Do we an answer?
No Law Enforcement
There is ongoing talk about a most stringent law against rape. Let’s not forget there already are laws against rape; we’ve seats reserved for women in buses, female officers; special police help lines. But these measures are – and will continue to be – ineffective in the face of our patriarchal and misogynistic culture and, more importantly the reluctance of those in power to enforce laws.
In India laws are made for the statute book, and not for enforcement.
Let’s also ask ourselves the question what delays delivery of justice? More than 600 rapes, for instance, were reported in New Delhi alone in 2012. So far, only one attack has resulted in a conviction. Why? Who is responsible? Our judicial system? Our ever-proliferating tribe of lawyers who have a deeply entrenched stake in prolonging cases for years and decades to make more and more money! How will another and more stringent law make any difference?
Judicial delays in India are not accidental. They are a systemic part of the defence of the privileged which almost all rapists are because of their shady connections with corrupt politicians. That is why there is never likely to be a serious solution of the scandals and scams (of all types). A Raja and Suresh Kalmadi and Kanimozhi are back in Parliament and sitting on Standing Committees. Could this be possible in any society that swears by rule of law.
Rape and brutalization of young and not so young women and helpless children happens day after day. There is nothing new or sensational about it. It just so happened that Delhi’s proliferating 24x7 electronic media which has to report something or the other every minute of the day, found in what happened, a story which was just the right one to catch public attention. And it focused on it relentlessly hour after hour and day after day and hour. (Now a Hon’ble Minister wants a search to begin to ascertain the real name of the victim of rape. TV channels will now depute their teams to be the first in the county to find out who she was.)
There has also been some debate about the role of electronic media. It indeed has emerged in democratic societies a co-prosecutor, if not the reporter-prosecutor of crime. Where does the State take over?
Why Protest Movements Peter Out
The one most significant issue that this sordid episode throws up is how the protest movements that follow a gruesome happening peter out after a while as if nothing happened. You will recall the stir that Anna Hazare and his team created by their fast to have a Lokpal bill passed. What happened to it? And now the demands are for hanging the rapists and speedy justice. Wait and watch what happens in the next few months whether the momentum of the latest stir yields some tangible results or it meets the fate of previous agitations.
During the Vietnam War the Americans coined the phrase: ‘threshold of tolerance’, meaning how much suffering can a potential enemy possibly tolerate before breaking down? After all, there are limits to which humans can suffer. A time comes when something in you says: ‘enough is enough is enough: I can't take it anymore. Let me accept defeat and learn to live with things as they are. What’s the point of resisting?’
What’s the 'threshold of tolerance' to suffering in case of an average Indian? You must have asked yourself sometime or the other.
Remember how we have suffered for centuries at the hands of each successive wave of conquerors. Hordes of Islamic invaders started arriving from the eighth century onwards. They plundered the land; looted people; killed the innocent; raped women; demolished temples. And it went on and on for centuries. Nadir Shah's horrific orgy of plunder in 1739 was one of such well-chronicled visitations. This was followed by Ahmed Shah Abdali's expeditions of loot and plunder. Lest we should forget, twice the Akal Takht in the Golden Temple, Amritsar, was ravaged.
And yet common people of this land took all this in their stride. The foreigners came and saw and destroyed. We once again collected the pieces and started afresh.
With each wave of invasion and consequent suffering, our threshold of tolerance receded – further and further.
“During the two centuries of British rule, unimaginable atrocities were committed by the rulers on the ruled directly and indirectly. After the Permanent Land Settlement of Cornwallis was introduced in 1793 in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, the ryot suffered the worst of indignities at the hands of the zamindars whom the British brazenly pampered to extract assured land revenue. Most of the continuing social backwardness and agricultural impoverishment of Eastern India dates back to this rapacious system. The inhuman torture of those who rose in revolt in 1857 has never been chronicled in its awesome, gory detail.
The Slave in Us
Perhaps we deem it to be an intrinsic part of the Indian psyche. Mulk Raj Anand describes in Untouchable how the threshold of tolerance has always been receding in our society. When Bakha's sister, Sohini, is sexually assaulted by a Brahmin priest – the so-called high-caste Brahmins were no believers in caste distinctions when it came to their sex gratification – his resignation to the situation shows his utter helplessness. The narrator in the novel articulates that poignant moment.
A superb specimen of humanity he seemed whenever he made the high resolve to say something, to go and do something, his fine form rising like a tiger at bay. And yet there was a futility written on his face. He could not overstep the barriers which the conventions of his superiors had built up to protect their weakness against him.... So, in the highest moment of his strength, the slave in him asserted itself and he lapsed back, wild with torture, biting his lips and ruminating his grievances.
Mark the words: ‘the slave in him asserted itself and he lapsed back, wild with torture, biting his lips, ruminating his grievances’ This is exactly what happens. The slave in us asserts itself in the decisive moments and we unwittingly lapse back to the Bakha in us. With each successive wave of oppression, people learned just to bite their lips and ruminate their grievances, to suffer in silence and deem it as a part of their life over which they had no control.
The ever-receding threshold of tolerance has, in our society, led to several social phenomena of grave implications. First and foremost, every time the threshold of someone's tolerance recedes to help him survive for another day, a bit of him dies. Yes, dies, not wilt or wither, but die. He isn't thereafter the same person. Some bit of his being shrivels for ever when he is forced to seek adjustment to a situation over which he has no control.
Exposed repeatedly to such diminution, he becomes an alienated being, alienated at once from his own real self and his environment. He is no longer proactive. He merely reacts as and when something happens. This explains why we, as a people, are devoid of the will to resist and thus choose to reconcile only too readily to any change for the worse.
Take a simple example from our day-to-day living experience. The street light opposite your house isn’t working. You lodge a complaint. Nothing happens. Deeming it to be your civic duty, you stick your neck out to ascertain who supposedly deals with it. Then you call on the august functionary. Wearing a disdainful look, he hears you out perfunctorily, throwing, all the while, hints of his being terribly busy. All that he promises is to ‘look into the matter’. Still entertaining, against all well-known odds, the hope that the system may respond one day, you persist. You remind: once, twice, even, the proverbial thrice. Then wisdom dawns on you and you say ’let it go’. You learn the noble art of acquiescence, which, in turn, has created the quiescent society you and I live in.
The ever-receding threshold of tolerance also leads to an attitude of unconcern towards others, degenerating into gross indifference to meaningful human relationships beyond brazen self-interest. This also explains our much-lamented failure to act in unison.
And all this brings into being a dependency complex.
Community living involves people getting together to collectively deal with problems as and when they emerge. When everyone reconciles to accept the state of affairs as it is, all they do is to wait for a benign hand to descend from the high heavens to come to their rescue. Invariably, people look up to the State apparatus to solve their problems. And when that hope is belied, cynicism sets in. This is what exactly has happened in the Indian society.
Now and then comes a Gandhi. He advocated, and did so most vociferously, resistance to an unjust order. Do you recall that famous statement that he read out in March 1922 in, what has come to be called, ‘The Great Trial’, a statement by which he lit the flame to burn for ever, the flame of fearlessness. Do you recall that stirring submission of Gandhi before Justice C. N. Broomfield, the trial judge in the case.
Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed. But I had to make my choice. I had either to submit to a system which I considered had done an irreparable harm to my country, or incur the risk of the mad fury of my people bursting forth, when they understood the truth from my lips.
In the same submission Gandhi said:
My public life began in 1893 in South Africa in troubled weather. My first contact with British authority in that country was not of a happy character. I discovered that as a man and an Indian I had no rights. More correctly, I discovered that I had no rights as a man, because I was an Indian.
What does one do under such circumstances: acquiesce into accepting all the indignities and insults heaped on you or assert yourself? Of course, Gandhi’s method of self-assertion was unique - the method of non-violent protest. Shall we try that once again, and on mass scale.
Are we are the same people whom Gandhi urged to stand up to injustice? It appears the Bakha in us, the Bakha whose genes are in our beings, the Bakha who suffered for centuries and suffered silently has once again taken over. Can the ever-present Bakha in us, be awakened?”
If there was another Gandhi around!
How often in history have we been traumatized by ruthless oppression and our humanity violated. The Muslim invaders did it in the name of Allah and the British had it done to Indians by Indians to discharge the white man’s burden. For how long have we been mute witnesses to the victimization of the underprivileged by the powerful. Remember the moment in that magnificent debut film of Nihalani Aakrosh where police bring a shackled (deemed) criminal peasant Lahanya Bhiku ( superbly played by Om Puri) to the cremation ground to perform the last rites of his wife who had committed suicide out of shame because the village head had raped her. Seeing his pre-pubescent sister being looked at with lustful eyes by the same fellow, he kills her to make her escape his wife’s fate. After that Lahanya Bhiku looks heavens-ward and screams, and screams and screams. Weren’t the gods that be also as indifferent to his soul’s outpourings as were the human spectators? Shouldn’t instead he have killed the real oppressor who had raped his wife?
The chapter of our salvation will begin when we exterminate the gene of Bakha and Lahanya Bhikus and refuse to acquiesce into accepting the injustices meted out to us, and direct our revenge against the perpetrators. For too long in our history we have been taking it lying down. The time now has come when we, instead, should listen to the clarion call of Makhdoom Moinuddin:
koh-e-Gam aur garaan aur garaan aur garaan
Gamzaa-o-tesh ko chamakaao ke kuchh raat kate
(The mountain of sorrow is getting more and more daunting
Get your knives ready and sharpen your axes to end this dark night.)
The long chequered history of our ever-receding threshold of tolerance started when we gave in. When will the time come when my compatriots will say “enough is enough” and we’re going to take it no more. There might then be a mighty upheaval – social and political. And perhaps blood-shed too! But all that is a small price to pay to save a nation’s soul.